Psychological Effects of Increased Loneliness

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Loneliness in the Modern Era

In 2018, more than 1.6 billion people around the world had an active social media profile with an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes spent on it daily. Modern loneliness isn't just about being physically removed from other people, but of feeling emotionally disconnected from others. Increased social connections have been connected with the increase in social isolation and depression. An increased online presence is also associated with less freedom for an individual to be who they really are due to outside pressure.

ONLINE CONNECTIONS LINKED WITH LONELINESS

  • Social media platforms use the same techniques used in gambling, where it creates psychological dependencies and imbalances in brain chemicals that resemble depression and anxiety.
  • When the internet is used to connect with people and maintain existing relationships, it can reduce loneliness. However, when it's used to replace offline interactions with others, it can increase feelings of loneliness. Lonely people are more vulnerable when using social technologies because they are more likely to focus on negative information, hence intensifying their feelings of loneliness.
  • A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine showed that the more time young adults spent on social media, the more likely they were to report symptoms of depression and have problems sleeping.
  • Studies conducted by the University of Pennsylvania has found that Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat use is linked with decreased well-being. It has been concluded that this is due to the enormous amount of social comparison that takes place in such social media sites, particularly Instagram.
  • Research shows that compared to those who spend less than 30 minutes a day using social media, those who spend more than 2 hours on it daily are twice as likely to report high levels of social isolation. In addition, compared to those who checked social media fewer than 9 times a week, the people who visited the sites 58 or more times a week were three times as likely to report high levels of social isolation.
  • According to survey findings on 16-24 year-olds, 69% of respondents said they sometimes feel lonely when seeing others having fun without them.
  • Millennials are largely congregating in makeshift communities, co-working spaces, dense urban communities, more likely to live with parents, and use technology to maintain close contacts. However, according to a census in the UK, loneliness greatly troubles millennials. 42% of millennial women are more afraid loneliness than a cancer diagnosis, which is the highest among all generations.

IMPACT OF ONLINE CONNECTIONS ON SENSE OF SELF AND FREEDOM

  • According to the finding of Pew Research, most people would rather not express their personal views on a policy if it means going against other people and potentially alienating friends, family, and co-workers. This was found to be true both online and offline. However, with online interactions, the pressure to conform now comes from the masses rather than from guardians.
  • A study on teens conducted by the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found that a high number of "likes" on social media is linked with increased activity in the rewards center of the brain. Teens are influenced to like photos, regardless of its content, and this feeds the herd mentality to like what others like to be accepted.
  • Evidence suggests that the illusion of perfection that is portrayed online is damaging to teens and this leads them fake happiness in order to "fit in" online. This has frequently led teens to mask their sadness and insecurity rather than share it.
  • The illusion of appearing to be perfect to outsiders is a phenomenon that is so prevalent that researchers at Stanford University coined the term "duck syndrome" that refers to how a duck appears to glide easily across the water while in reality, it is not as easy as it appears above the surface. This term originated following "the rash of suicides" in college-aged young students who had given off the appearance of being model students. Further evidence had revealed the perfectly crafted social media profiles of all of these students.
  • The social media feed acts as a constant reminder to a person about what he or she "should" be, and the feeling of never being able to measure up to others, or their public image. The more they observe their "ideal self", the less forgivable their flaws seem to be in comparison, which fuels the cycle of overachieving and depression.

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Quotes
  • "We know the “usual suspects”, mental health issues resulting directly from technology — addiction, as social media platforms use the same techniques as gambling firms to create psychological dependencies and real imbalance of brain chemicals among teens that resembles depression and anxiety"
  • "martphone anxiety, including “low-battery anxiety,” “nomophobia”, the fear people can feel when they are out of mobile contact, even FOMO (fear of missing out), which has nearly 23 percent of students in India logging more than eight hours on their smartphones daily."
  • "The dependency is strong, and globally pervasive, with nearly all of the 60 percent of Kenyans who own smartphones saying they find it hard to put them down. In China and South Korea, tech rehab camps are now common, and the World Health Organization officially recognizes video game addiction as a mental health disorder."
  • "We are talking to each other less and having fewer meaningful conversations which can increase feelings of loneliness and anxiety. Not only are more people, particularly digital natives, craving “IRL” (in real life) connection, but studies have shown that people felt better and more connected during times when they only socialized face-to-face. "
Quotes
  • "In the 17th century, when loneliness was usually relegated to the space outside the city, solving it was easy. It merely required a return to society. However, loneliness has since moved inward – and has become much harder to cure. Because it’s taken up residence inside minds, even the minds of people living in bustling cities, it can’t always be solved by company."
  • "Modern loneliness isn’t just about being physically removed from other people. Instead, it’s an emotional state of feeling apart from others – without necessarily being so. The lack of an obvious cure to loneliness is part of the reason why it is considered to be so dangerous today"
  • "Although loneliness may seem like a timeless, universal experience, it seems to have originated in the late 16th century, when it signaled the danger created by being too far from other people."
Quotes
  • "There are more opportunities today to connect with others than ever before: social media, instant messaging and even online gaming all allow people to share messages and experiences without being in the same place at the same time. But research has shown that high use of the internet is linked to loneliness, social anxiety and depression"
  • "For instance, in her book Alone Together, MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle has argued that people are beginning to favour communicating with others using new technologies over speaking face to face. She argues that online communication lacks intimacy, and though we might feel we are constantly connected or in the loop, it actually leaves us feeling alone"
  • "When social technologies are used to connect with people and maintain existing relationships, they can reduce loneliness. But when internet use replaces offline interactions with others, it can increase feelings of loneliness."
  • "But problems arise when our attempts to reach out to others are unsuccessful, and this is when loneliness is linked to poor mental and physical health. When people are lonely, it means they will seek ways to avoid being rejected or further isolated by others."
  • "This focus on negative aspects of social communication can cause lonely people to remain quiet and reserved during social interactions. And if they remain lonely for a long period, they might avoid social gatherings altogether."
  • "These behaviours make lonely people more vulnerable when they use social technologies, because they are more likely to focus on negative information online, view content rather than share, and generally use social media in ways that continue to make them feel lonely – or makes those feelings even worse."
Quotes
  • "Although it's possible that increased social media use could help alleviate feelings of social isolation, increased social media use could also have the opposite effect in young adults, by limiting in-person interactions, the researchers wrote in the study, published today (March 6) in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine."
  • "In addition, social media can give people the impression that others are leading happier lives, because people sometimes portray themselves unrealistically online, the researchers wrote."
  • "A little more than a quarter (27 percent) of the participants reported feeling high levels of social isolation, the researchers found. And greater social media use was linked to greater feelings of social isolation, according to the study."
  • "Compared with the people in the study who spent less than 30 minutes each day using social media, those who used social media for more than 2 hours daily were about twice as likely to report feeling high levels of social isolation, the researchers found. In addition, compared with people who checked social media sites fewer than nine times a week, those who visited social media sites 58 or more times a week were about three times as likely to report feeling high levels of social isolation. "
  • ""We do not yet know which came first — social media use, or the perceived social isolation," senior study author Dr. Elizabeth Miller, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said in a statement."
  • "It's possible that young adults who initially felt socially isolated turned to social media. Or, it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feeling isolated from the real world. It could also be a combination of both," Miller said. But even if the social isolation came first, it did not seem to be alleviated by spending time online, even in purportedly social situations"
Quotes
  • "The impact of technology on youth loneliness is mixed. Young people have concerns about how they feel they need to present themselves on social media, and how they perceive other people’s online lives. Young women again seem particularly affected by this. But young people also see positive opportunities for online connection, especially where it enhances face-to-face contact"
  • "The role of technology, and social media in particular, is often questioned in relation to loneliness. For young people, who have grown up in the digital age, there are definitely challenges and concerns. For example, our survey found that 69% say they sometimes feel lonely if they see others having fun online without them. "
  • "Young people describe the pressure to portray ‘perfect’ lives on social media no matter how they are really feeling. This is another aspect of youth loneliness where girls and women seem to be vulnerable to particular pressures - whether it’s the need for ‘likes’ as validation, or the risk of judgement if seen to be ‘oversharing’, perhaps while trying to create that perfect online persona."
Quotes
  • "Much research has extensively studied the association between Internet use and psychological well-being, and found that intensive Internet use leads to a decline in interactions among family members. The findings of the HomeNet Project (Kraut et al., 1998) indicate that participants who spend a significant share of their time online reported high levels of loneliness and stress during the day. "
  • "Another study found that intensive Internet surfing was associated with a high risk of depression (Kraut et al., 2002). Researchers also found that loneliness and depression are associated with risky online behaviors (Ceyhan & Ceyhan, 2008) and regular social media usage (Hunt et al., 2018)."
  • "Numerous researchers have addressed the question of whether virtual social networks constitute an appropriate and satisfying resolution to the feeling of loneliness that teenagers and young adults frequently feel. Hu (2009) found that young people express a statistically significantly greater degree of loneliness after ―conversations on the Internet, compared with the degree of loneliness they express after face-to-face conversations. "
  • "Dror and Gershon (2012) found a direct association between loneliness and a large number of social network ―conversations with virtual friends. They noted that virtual friendships may be less gratifying than face-to-face friendships. "
  • "In 2018, more than 1.6 billion people worldwide maintain one or more active social media account(s) on social media, representing a total of approximately 2.7 billion ―monthly active accounts (Statista, 2018b). Social media users spend an average of 2 hours and 22 minutes daily on social media (3 hours for people between age 16 and 25; Bayindir & Kavanagh, 2018)"
Quotes
  • "Millennials are prioritizing groups both on a personal and societal level. Already, they’ve largely stabilized the solo-living rates in their age bracket—despite their rising average marriage age and declining fertility. Millennials are congregating in makeshift communities: living with each other in ersatz families, flocking to co-working spaces, crowding into dense urban locales, and using technology to stay in close communication. And, of course, they are much more likely to live with their parents."
  • "Loneliness is still something that greatly troubles Millennials: According to the 2016 Viceland UK Census, loneliness is the number one fear of young people today—ranking ahead of losing a home or a job. Fully 42% of Millennial women are more afraid of loneliness than a cancer diagnosis, by far the highest share of any generation. "
Quotes
  • "For the first time, University of Pennsylvania research based on experimental data connects Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram use to decreased well-being."
  • "It is a little ironic that reducing your use of social media actually makes you feel less lonely," she says. But when she digs a little deeper, the findings make sense. "Some of the existing literature on social media suggests there's an enormous amount of social comparison that happens. When you look at other people's lives, particularly on Instagram, it's easy to conclude that everyone else's life is cooler or better than yours."
Quotes
  • "In modern times, the challenge of thinking for one’s self persists. Except now, it seems, pressure to conform comes less and less from the guardians of the multitude than it does the masses themselves. "
  • "The Pew Research Center released a report titled “Social Media and the 'Spiral of Silence.'” Citing research from the Journal of Communication back in 1974—which suggests most people would rather not express their personal views on policy if that means going against the crowd and potentially alienating friends, family, and co-workers—Pew researchers found the same sentiment holds true online."
Quotes
  • "The verdict is still out on whether social media is damaging to the mental health of teens. This is in part due to the lack of research. Some studies show that online connections with small groups of people can be beneficial to teens, while other research points to a rise in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. "
  • "The other reason it’s difficult to get a good read on the issue is that social media is constantly changing and evolving. Plus, no long-term studies have been completed. So, we’re left making educated guesses based on current research."
  • "Those who had spent more time on social media had 2.2 times the risk of reporting eating and body image concerns, compared to their peers who spent less time on social media. The participants who spent the most time on social media had 2.6 times the risk."
  • "Results from a separate study from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine showed that the more time young adults spent on social media, the more likely they were to have problems sleeping and report symptoms of depression.2"
  • "And another small study of teens ages 13-18 from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found that receiving a high number of likes on photos showed increased activity in the reward center of the brain. Further, teens are influenced to like photos, regardless of content, based on high numbers of likes. Bottom line: It feels good to be “liked” and herd mentality is big on social media. Like what others like and you’re in."
Quotes
  • " Emerging evidence suggests that the illusion of perfection portrayed on social media is therefore uniquely damaging to many teens, and moreover, it also frequently leads to them trying to mask their own sadness and insecurity rather than share it, faking happiness to “fit in” online."
  • "So prevalent is this phenomenon that researchers at Stanford University coined the term "duck syndrome" to describe it after a rash of suicides in college-aged young adults who had previously given off the appearance of being model students, referring to the way a duck appears to glide calmly and easily across the water while in reality, its little legs are thrashing valiantly just below the surface. Further investigation revealed that all of these students had carefully-crafted social media images, replete with smiling photographs and inspirational quotes."
  • "While most experts do not believe that social media alone can cause depression, it's becoming more and more evident that it can aid and abet the disease, both through hiding its symptoms and through increasing the depressed individual's feelings of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. "
  • "A social media feed is, after all, a constant reminder of who the young person feels he or she “should” be, and reviewing his or her own expertly-crafted content can instill deep feelings of living a lie, of never being able to measure up not only to others, but to his or her own public image. "
  • "The more the young person gazes upon his or her “ideal self”, the less forgivable his or her flaws seem by comparison, and the worse the cycle of depression and overachieving becomes."